I recently found one of the best examples of managing success and leadership that I’ve read in a long time. It did not come from a scion of enterprise. It came from NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, aka Beast Mode. I found the nugget of wisdom while reading American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines. At the time the NFL season was about to begin and the issue was dedicated to all things football.
For those who don’t follow football (and for those that are not fans of Lynch/Seahawks, etc. I urge you to keep reading, too), Lynch is the running back for the Seattle Seahawks. He is generally recognized as one of the best, if not the best, running backs in the NFL. His nickname is Beast Mode. Originally given for his running style on the field, it has evolved into something larger than football. It’s more than just a name, it’s a state of being. Lynch provided a prime example of what Beast Mode means when he made this insane run against the New Orleans Saints in 2011.
Since then, his fame has grown, and the brand of Beast Mode with him. Many learned more about Lynch from the significant media attention he received during the 2014-2015 season. Lynch often refused to engage in media interviews, being fined by the NFL, and then ultimately answering each question during an interview at the Super Bowl with “I’m here so I won’t get fined.”
Some loved it and some hated it. There was a lot of coverage about who his actions and his responsibilities as a player. But few took the time during the hoopla to dig into who he really is as a person.
Cue the American Way interview.
The article was a deep dive into Lynch as a person off the field. He is dedicated to his community where he grew up in Oakland, CA. In particular, the article connected what the infamous run (aka Beast Quake) means in the larger context of Lynch’s life. The article states:
For Lynch, the run represented more than a fabulous football play. The effort and determination it took was a reflection of his effort to lift himself out of a tough North Oakland neighborhood, where he was raised in a single-parent household. “My mom worked three jobs at a time and supported four kids on her own,” Lynch says. “We had no father figure. I never thought about the NFL because I’d never seen it done. That run symbolizes the way that I feel with my life, growing up to my career right now.”
Beast Mode worked hard to get where he is. There is no doubting it, especially for the top running back who has spent countless hours in the gym, watching film, enduring interviews, etc. This run could mean the culmination of individual effort to get to the top of his profession. We hear this much in sports, and life generally. An individual’s success is due to their effort, skill and experience. This is not denied. The narrative often stops there. But not with Beast Mode. He elaborated on what the run really means for him:
“The significant thing about that play is you will see me doing a lot of work,” he says, “but you’ve got to remember there was an offensive line that beat me to the end zone. There were two receivers making key blocks. As much as people want to give me credit, it was my support system that actually made it happen. When I say that run symbolizes my life and my career, it’s the absolute truth about how I really feel. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, and if I need help along the way, I’m going to ask for it.”
Beast Mode recognizes that his success is more than just his individual effort. It is more than just the effort of his team. It is the effort of those that raised him, previous teammates, and mentors. Without his individual effort he would not be where he is today, true. But he could also be somewhere else were it not for the efforts of those around him.
The best takeaway from this story is that Beast Mode recognizes it is not only the important influence others have on his life, or only his own effort that results in his success. It’s the combination of their efforts and his efforts. He could have a great support network but if he ate fast food every day, didn’t train hard, he wouldn’t be in the NFL. He could be a freak athlete, but without guidance and focus and support, he could err and his career over in an instant. It is the combination that makes his success a reality.
This perspective is awesome. It makes me cheer for Beast Mode, not as a fan of his team per se, but of him as a person (entity?). I think it is easy for people, anyone, to overlook the contributions others have made that paved the way for an individual’s success. He acknowledges it, and even points out that he is not afraid to seek assistance, to ask for help. Those with the spotlight, the high profile roles, are often in those positions for a reason. But their success would be limited without the contributions of others. Success is not possible without individual effort, but more often than not success is not a result solely because of individual effort.
And now Beast Mode is using his success to give back to those that supported him. He created the Fam 1st Family Foundation to help his community. Lynch may not have played football without the support of his community. But now football is the medium he uses to make a difference in his community. The cycle continues.
There is a lot to learn from Beast Mode.